Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

te.

have succeeded in gaining a firmer footing in Ireland than they previously possessed. The English language and customs are continually making greater progress towards the west; and the Irish, who can no longer withstand England's power, seek in great numbers, like their kinsmen in Scotland, a new asylum in America. The struggle is the more severe in proportion as the Irish are more numerous than the Celtic population in Scotland and England. The last violent throes of the once powerful and mighty Irish nationality now fearfully agitate Ireland, which has been so long and so severely tried by oppression, pestilence, and famine.

One of the most active causes of the misfortunes of Ireland and the Irish is, however, the same that occasioned the ruin of the Celts in England and Scotland ; namely, that they could never sincerely unite together. They have always abandoned themselves too much to eastern indolence and quiet, regardless of the march of civilization, and neglecting to avail themselves sufficiently of the rich resources afforded by their native land. For, although it is true that there are considerable tracts of boggy land in Ireland, and that many districts are but little capable of cultivation, yet in the main Ireland is exceedingly well adapted for agriculture. The neighbourhood of the Atlantic produces mild breezes, which permit neither frost nor snow to be of long duration, and consequently promote a rare and luxuriant vegetation. In few countries do we behold so many creeping plants, and such beautiful and verdant fields and pastures, as in Ireland, which, from its green meadows, has obtained the appropriate name of “ the Emerald Isle.” The land is intersected by rivers partially navigable, abounding in fish, and its coasts are washed by a sea which not only from its rich fisheries, but from the facilities which it affords to navigation, particularly towards America— might, if properly used, become an inexhaustible source of wealth.

From time immemorial Ireland was celebrated in the Scandinavian North for its charming situation, its mild climate, and its fertility and beauty. The “Kongespeil” (or “ Mirror of Kings "), which was compiled in Norway about the year 1200, says that “ Ireland is almost the best of the lands we are acquainted with, although no vines grow there.” The Scandinavian Vikings and emigrants, who often contented themselves with such poor countries as Greenland and the islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, must therefore have especially turned their attention to “ the Emerald Isle,” particularly as it bordered very closely upon their colonies in England and Scotland.

But to make conquests in Ireland, and to acquire by the sword alone permanent settlements there, were no easy tasks. The remote situation of Ireland, so far towards the west in the Atlantic Ocean, was of itself no slight defence. With the exception of certain tracts, principally on tbe east coast, the land is full of mountains, which everywhere afford secure retreats from an invading enemy. In our days Ireland, the second of the British Isles in point of magnitude, has a population of between six and seven millions, chiefly of ancient Irish, or Celtic origin; and in ancient times, when the Celts were entirely independent, and absolute masters of the country, the population does not appear to have been much less numerous. Ireland, moreover, distinguished itself by adopting Christianity, together with its accompanying civilization, at a very early period, which, however, was not able to put an end to the cruel and sanguinary disputes that raged between the different tribes composing its population. Thus the proportionately few and scattered Norwegians, who could reach Ireland only by sea, and who could derive assistance only from their countrymen settled upon the coasts of England and Scotland, had to contend with a numerous, and by no means unwarlike people, inhabiting an extensive and mountainous country. To obtain assistance in the hour of need from their own Scandinavian home was, on account of the great distance, a physical impossibility. When, therefore, we consider that neither the Romans nor the Anglo-Saxons ever obtained a footing in Ireland, although they had conquered the adjacent country, England; and when we further reflect upon the immense power exerted by the English in later times in order to subdue the Celtic population of Ireland, and the many centuries which elapsed before they even partially succeeded, we cannot help being surprised at the very considerable Scandinavian settlements which, as early as the ninth century, were formed in Ireland, and at the great influence which the Norwegians, according to the concurring evidence of the Irish and Scandinavian chronicles, must for more than three centuries have exercised in all the most important places in the country.

On his first entrance into Ireland, a Scandinavian traveller will be immediately reminded of the ancient dominion of his countrymen. It cannot possibly escape his observation what a striking part the Norwegians-or, as they are there exclusively called, the “ Danes "— play in the popular legends and traditions of Ireland. That, like the north-western districts of Scotland, it should have best preserved the popular life of ancient times with its songs and legends, must, it is true, be ascribed to its remote situation. Everywhere, even far in the interior of the country, we are shown Danish raths (mounds and entrenchments), and among others the so-called “Danes-cast,” a long ditch and rampart in Ulster. “ Danish cooking-places” are also pointed out, consisting of small circular spaces set round with stones, and bearing traces of embers and burnings, some of which are met with scattered about on heaths and moors. In the ancient copper mines in the south of Ireland roundish stones with a dent round the middle are now and then dug up, which it is evident were used in former times in working the mines. These stones are called by the common people “ Danes' hammers." In like manner they generally call most of the antiquities that are dug up, whether weapons or ornaments, “ Danish.” Tales calculated to awaken horror of outrages of the Danes are connected with all these pretended Danish memorials; and the farther we travel into the remote western districts, the more terrible are the tales we hear of the distress and cruel oppressions which the inhabitants endured under their Danish conquerors. Nevertheless the Irishman has preserved, like the Englishman, the remembrance of the Danes' contempt of death, and irresistible bravery." That might even frighten a Dane,” says the Irishman at times, when speaking of some desperate undertaking. A kind of superstitious fear of the redoubted Danes seems in some places to have seized the common people ; at least it is an acknowledged fact, that in several parts of the country they continue to frighten children with “ the Danes."

[graphic]

Similar ideas about the Danes are to be met with even among the more enlightened portion of the people. Not long ago, it was a firm belief among many educated men in Ireland, that there were still families in Denmark, who could not forget the dominion they had formerly exercised in Ireland, and who bore a title derived from the large estates which their forefathers had once conquered and possessed there. It was likewise commonly supposed that the Danes had carried with them from Ireland a great number of manuscripts, which were said to be preserved in one of the large collections of books in Copenhagen; as if, forsooth, it had been one of the chief aims of the bold and dangerous expeditions of the ancient Norwegians at that remote period, to carry off scientific treasures, and above all, manuscripts written in Irish, and, consequently, in a language that was for the most part entirely incomprehensible to them. In the last century in particular, and at the beginning of the present one, the Irish literati attributed to the Danes, or rather to the Norwegians, much to which, strictly speaking, they could have no valid claim.

The remarkable round towers,whose stone walls are built in so workmanlike a manner, and which are so evidently of Christian origin-being erected both as belfries, and as places of security for the clergy, and certainly against the Scandinavian Vikings and conquerors—were nevertheless proclaimed to be “Danish towers." The large stone rooms, or sepulchral chambers in cairns, that are found in several places in Ireland, as at New Grange, and which have so striking an agreement with the sepulchral chambers in the Scandinavian North and other countries, dating from the pre-historical, and so-called stone age, were also called “ Danish;" although we know from the Sagas, as well as from the Irish chronicles, that the “Danes," or rather the Norwegian Vikings, sometimes opened these sepulchres, in order to take out any treasure that might have been buried in them by the natives. In several other instances, the Irish were not disinclined at times to regard the Norwegian conquests in a somewhat too favourable light.

Recently, however, they have gone to the opposite extreme. Everything possible that is bad, but nothing whatever that is good, is ascribed to the Scandinavian conquerors. In Ireland, as in Scotland and England, it is at present the commonly received opinion that the Norwegian conquerors did nothing but plunder and burn, and thus annihilated a very considerable civilization, which had prevailed in Ireland for centuries before the 'Norwegian expeditions. The “ Danes" are, besides, accused of subverting the independence of Ireland, and of being the sole cause of her subsequently coming under the dominion of England. It is remarkable enough, however, that the Irish appear entirely to forget that the fault must be ascribed to themselves. They were so divided, and at such variance with one another, that, in spite of their vast numbers and boasted civilization, they could not unite to resist a mere handful of Scandinavians, who came from a great distance across the sea, and still less could they resist their powerful English conquerors.

« НазадПродовжити »